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Friday, 22 May 2015

On the Third Generation of OSR Products

There's been some talk on the OSR blogosphere lately about the question of just what is really valuable in the OSR, setting or rules, and about what the OSR is producing or may produce (or should be producing) in the future.   That is to say, where shall the innovation be?

Tenkar (of Tenkar's Tavern) came out saying that he thinks the future of the game should be more products like Spears of the Dawn or Arrows of Indra, complete games where the innovation is the setting and "less reworks of greyhawk or the forgotten realms".   While Rob Conley (who I'll note provided the excellent maps for Arrows of Indra) admitted that these are not really his cup of tea, and that his " preference is for bog standard fantasy world but with depth" (giving Harnworld or Ars Magica as examples).

The Greyhawk Grognard has pointed out that he thinks there were two phases in the OSR, the first being retro-clones and the second going off in "new directions". 

All of them made mention of this question of "where is the OSR's Tekumel?", and the impetus for this seems to have been the new White Star game.

I'd argue that in fact there are now three phases in the OSR.

The first was the retro-clones.  This was to me by far the least interesting part of the OSR, though some argued a necessary part, and they are pretty much finished now (since we've cloned just about everything that could be cloned and a few things that maybe shouldn't have been, to the point that we're left picking through Dave Arneson's discarded grocery bills in search of mythical clues to some kind of lost UR-D&D).

The second phase is still going on, which is the largely rules-fronted OSR games: those games that are not retroclones but whose innovation and creativity is largely focused on rule-modifications of the standard D&D concept.  These are games like ACKS, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or Fantastic Heroes & Witchery.
These could still go strong for a good long while, because there's way more room for creative maneuvering than with the retro-clones or even the almost-clones like Adventures Dark and Deep, as good as that is.

But now what we're just starting to see is Phase III:  which is the products that are all about focusing on an old-school setting that obliges a new way of playing D&D; these will have rules that are different from the standard but what makes them shine is not the rules-difference but the setting-difference.  I'm proud to say that Arrows of Indra is one of them (as is the aforementioned Spears of the Dawn), but I also think these are in some ways just the baby-steps (or easy pickings) of what will eventually become a huge new source of creative wealth for the OSR.

These types of OSR-games are exactly the kind I'm interested in making.  Aside from AoI, within a month or two we'll see the release of Dark Albion: The Rose war.  What will make it interesting and different from the two examples above is that AoI and Spears both got their inspiration from looking at D&D from the point of view of a cultural difference in setting; whereas Dark Albion is going to be, to slightly alter Conley's demands, "European Fantasy with depth".  It will be D&D done for deep-historical gritty European fantasy, which will be closer in some ways to stuff like Ars Magica, Harn, or Pendragon than anything we've seen for the OSR thus far. Indeed, while it will be instantly familiar (and particularly appealing, I think, to any Game of Thrones fan) its 280-or-so pages of historical-fantasy detail will unlike any D&D setting I've ever seen.

The days where people could get away with the "10' x 10' room with 2 giant rats and exactly 2000cp" rut that the JMal-branch of the OSR nearly got stuck in is over.  What's coming up now will defy anyone to think that there's a lack of creativity in the OSR, as if the second-phase products hadn't made that claim provably absurd already.


Currently Smoking:  Ashton Old Church Rhodesian + C&D's Crowley's Best

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Arrows of Indra: The Western Lands

The setting of Arrows of Indra, the Bharata Kingdoms, is probably one of the most awesome features of the game.  And of course, it comes directly out of the "Epic India" mythology found in the Mahabharata.  As I said before, I considered at one point making a less-direct "Indian-esque" setting, but then quickly realized that no setting I concocted myself would be able to be as cool as the setting of the actual epics.

In the book, you get a 15-page chapter on the lands of the setting, and that's not counting the underworld, encounter tables, or various other details you find in other sections.  Even so, this leaves a lot of room for a GM to maneuver, since the areas covered are quite large.  Perhaps someday, I'll do more detailed regional setting books or something like that, but at the same time, the book as written provides you with a wealth of overall background info without stifling your own space for creativity, letting you put in the details you want in terms of cultural flavor.

Being fairly large, the civilized areas of the Bharata Kingdoms can be divided into western, central, eastern, and southern kingdoms (the north is pure mountains).  So in today's entry, I'm going to give you a very quick rundown of the western area of the civilized region, with the idea that at some point I'll give you details on the other areas.

The western Bharata Kingdoms are both the oldest and also the most 'rustic' of the civilized lands.  They were the first area of settlement of the Bharata people, but because of that they maintain a somewhat more backward attitude and do not have all the complex formalities that you see in some of the other lands.  This makes them great adventuring territory; they're pretty much the original "wild west".

Here's some quick notes on the Kingdoms found there:

The Bahlika kingdom:
-only nominally a kingdom, really a collection of tribes and city-states that run like a very loose 'republic'.  The various chiefs meet periodically in great gatherings called 'loya jirga', where they vote on matters that concern them all.
-this region is particularly prized for two products: Saffron and Horses.  Both are considered the finest of their kind in the known world, and merchants who manage to get through the sometimes challenging region (banditry is quite common) and return to the more central kingdoms with either stand to make a fortune.
-Although men are the rulers of the kingdom (like everywhere else in the Bharata lands), the Bahlika kingdom culture is matrilineal; your family name and inheritance is determined by who your mother is, not who your father is.  Polygamy is common here like everywhere else in the setting, but here it is not only men who can have many wives; women of influence can have many husbands also.
-Bahlika women are considered by people of other lands to be of 'loose morals'; they have much more freedom than women in other kingdoms do.  Bahlika women could even be a good source for female PCs.
-the Bahlika people frequently engage in banditry against each other, and especially against foreigners.
-the Bahlika kingdom is a vassal region to the Madra kingdom, but are generally left alone to determine their own business.
-the Vanga Parvat mountain range is found here, and there are rumours of lost cities in the mountains, and myriad entrances to the Patala Underworld.

The Madra Kingdom:
-in the foothills of the Himayant mountains, the climate here is generally cold, and the natives tend to wear more clothes than people in any other civilized land.   It's so cold that there's no elephants.
-This kingdom is currently ruled by Shalya, a formidable warrior and archer.
(there's a Mahabharata tv series in India right now, which is kind of their answer to Game of Thrones: this is what Shalya looks like in the show)
-everyone here drinks alcohol, and even eats beef, which seems outrageous to foreigners.
-Madra women are stunningly beautiful, so much so that instead of paying a dowry, fathers get to demand a bride-price when a suitor seeks to marry their daughters.
-there's no taboo here against pre-marital sex either, and a herb can be found here which aborts unwanted pregnancies. It's the sort of thing that, if smuggled back to some other kingdom, could be worth a lot of money to the right family in a serious bind.
-the capital, Sakala, has massive fortifications.  Wisely so, since in the mountains that border the kingdom there's a nation of hostile nagas, and another of blood-drinking demons.  The naga kingdom city is said to be built on top of a massive treasure hoard that the avatara Shiva collected on his adventures.

The Gandara Kingdom:
-the farthest western edge of the Bharata Kingdoms, it has the earliest Bharata cities. The natives claim to be half-gandharvas but no one else believes them.
-only the oldest gods are worshiped here.
-the Gandarans bury their dead in necropolises instead of cremating them.
-in and around the mountainous kingdom there's an entire Naga city, demons, giants, and vicious tribes of barbarian horsemen.
-the King of Gandara is Shakuni, who's entire family was murdered by the Kuru King Dhirtarashtra (except for his sister who was forced to marry him) when he was but a boy. Shakuni has been plotting revenge ever since, by fomenting the rivalry between the two lines that claim the Kuru throne.
(he looks like the manipulating type, don't he?)
In the Mahabharata, it is Shakuni's scheming that eventually causes the apocalyptic war between these two lines of princes.

Anyways, that's it for today; just a little glimpse of the sort of places you can adventure in and the flavor of the world of Arrows of Indra.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Poker + H&H Beverwyck

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: RPG Prep Time Advice

In general, "more preparation" does not equal better. It takes a spectacular combination of GM personality and GM competence matched with particular expertise, matched with the absolute perfect group of players, in order to make a "high preparation" game worthwhile; or indeed a very particular kind of campaign to make "high prep" necessary.

The Pundit's advice to GMs is this: Prepare for your adventure only the absolute minimum that is necessary.

The more you "prep" the adventure, the more the chance that you will end up railroading or falling into the masturbatory hideousness that is storytelling. The "minimum that is necessary", however, will vary depending on which game you are running and what kind of campaign you are running with each game.

Still, "prep better", not "prep more". And what you ought to prep is the situation, the premise for the adventure, with something that outlines the basic things you really need to have happen in that adventure (which is why the Roman game is so high-prep, there are so many things that have to "happen" in each adventure), and keep the rest totally open. Its not your job to fill in the blanks, that's the players job, and they must do it however they want to.

If you're doing too much more work than your players, then chances are that you're not giving your players room to shine.


(Originally published: February 4th 2006)

Everyjoe Tuesday: Sex-Robot Edition

So, in my new article at, I ask the important question:  Will Robots (possibly sex-robots) steal your jobs?

The answer is YES.

However, it could be the key to a paradise of universal income and libertarian self-determination.  That is, if we can avoid having Marxist Bureaucrats and Corporate Monopolists fuck it up for us all.

Go check out the article: spread it around, share it, tweet it, go comment!


Currently Smoking: Winslow Crown Cutty + C&D's Crowley's Best

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Real (Gonzo) Alignments for Dungeon Crawl Classics

Or at least, real alignments for how my own "Last Sun" DCC campaign works.

I've come to realize that awesome as the Law-Neutral-Chaos mix goes, its not really complete.  There IS very clearly another axis of alignment at play in my campaign.  But it's not Good-Neutral-Evil; that just doesn't make a lot of sense in the context of how the world works.

No.  Here is the real alignment axis:

Law/Neutral/Chaos: you already know these.

Do-Gooder: Potentially also called "boy scout", "whitebread", "sucker" or "Mormon".  The wholesome types that actually believe in trying to save the ruined world.  The guys who will stand up to evil because of a set of principles, without there needing to be anything else in it for them.  Almost certainly doomed to get eaten by something horrible.

Freak: Potentially also called "weirdo", "maniac", or "hopped up on goofballs".  They'd be called 'lunatics' if anyone in the world of the Last Sun knew what a moon was.  These guys believe in something, but it sure as hell isn't principles.  They want whatever thing they want, whether it's to serve great cthulhu, get high, have interesting conversations, collect hats, reconquer the lost dwarven homeland, punk rock, or eat people's delicious spleens.  They don't really care about either saving the world or saving themselves, only about their own particular obsessions.  Almost certainly doomed to get eaten by something horrible.

Asshole: Potentially also called "dick", or "Bill the Elf". There are more of these guys than anyone else in the world of the Last Sun, which pretty much explains why things have gotten as bad as they have.  These are the people who are in it for the money, the power, and the women (or men, or attractive entities of indeterminate gender, or sex-robots, or whatever).  Some of them want to conquer entire dimensions, some want to see the world burn, a few of them just want to get to make other people miserable, and most of them just want to stay alive long enough to get to their next drink.  Almost certainly doomed to get eaten by something horrible, after all their former friends have been eaten first.

Here's the detailed breakdown:

Lawful Do-Gooder: these are the guys who want to bring back civilization and heal the world, and will work for it in an organized fashion.  They're well-meaning but usually hampered by their own rules, and by a lack of numbers.  The only significant groups in the world of the Last Sun that fit this alignment and are still around seem to be the Clerics (who have lost any kind of institutional order at this point, and are consistently undone by virtue of G.O.D. having gone insane).   The long-defunct Pythian (Elven) Knights were also Lawful Do-Gooders too, but destroyed themselves in some as-yet unrevealed fashion.  Lawful Do-Gooders will tend to put procedure over the actual doing of good, which can mean slaughtering people who don't fit the plan for saving the world, or not really helping out of bureaucratic inertia when the shit is hitting the fan.  The Time Dinosaurs may also be Lawful Do-gooders, what with their being highly religiously devout, but if so are apparently extremely constrained by rules against most kinds of temporal interference.

Neutral Do-Gooder:  The guys who want to help everyone as best as possible.  Represented by a variety of individuals, and as a group by the Azure Order of Wizards, who are the nicest people seen in the setting thus far.  Usually overwhelmed by the overall shittiness of the world but they can often make little gains at helping small groups and local areas to be more tolerable.

Chaotic Do-Gooder: They generally want to help everyone, one person at a time.  Have no tolerance for group work beyond an immediate circle of friends, or for any rules that get in the way of doing what they personally define as good. Arguably, Anthraz the Destroyer (the greatest adventurer there ever was, now in his dotage) could be a Chaotic Do-Gooder, because he usually only slaughtered Assholes and tried to help people, sort of. So is Doctor Theobald, the Ape-man intellectual.

Lawful Freak:  Cultists of organized pseudo-religious sects and gangs like the Halcon Lords; or groups that follow some single cause that isn't actually going to make the world any better but that's important to them. Note that they sometimes THINK that whatever they're doing is going to somehow 'fix everything' but this claim never stands up to reason. The Dwarves as a culture have mostly become Lawful Freaks at this point, obsessed with avenging their various grievances from the Book of Grievances and with the (seemingly impossible) task of reclaiming their ancient homelands in the deep Machine Levels under the earth. The NecroTreant was also an example of a lawful freak: he wanted to abolish all life as an "abomination" and leave the world an irradiated wasteland where only his seed-children would thrive. The Eco-Ogres were another good example. Likewise, the Daemon(s?) known as the Three Fates.  As individuals, they have their own set of Crazy Rules and they won't break them.

Neutral Freak:  these guys really don't care about anything except their Thing. They'll display an almost catatonic level of disinterest in whatever isn't related to that Thing.  They'll try to make everything about that Thing.  They can otherwise be nice, or terrible, or just bland, but will inevitably end up being annoying.  Bolt-O the Robot, the King of Elfland, Frenchy the Gold Mutant Gold-miner, the Hipster Elves, and any number of mutant tribes (who have often elevated their particular Thing into taboos or fetishes) are the prime examples from the campaign.

Chaotic Freak:  the guys who have just spent way too long staring into the Eye of the Void.  Their "thing" is usually to up the level of Chaos itself wherever they go.  The weaker adherents of this alignment will usually meet a quick death for being insufferable gits; while the more powerful ones are the crazy motherfuckers that you most want to stay away from, because you can't reason with them, can't offer them anything (except maybe by random chance), and you never know what they'll do to you.  The Wizard Nikos is the best example of this alignment in the campaign, followed closely by the Daemon Azi-Dahaka.

Lawful Asshole:  These are the guys who use rules to rule.  They are the evil overlords, the gang leaders, the tribal chiefs, or the Collective Assholes who don't give a fuck about anything other than things being done their way.  Also, rules-lawyers.  The campaign is so full of these guys that it would be hard to list them all:  the Smug Elves, The Assassin King, The Snake Witch, Goldeater, and many more.

Neutral Asshole:  this is your standard run-of-the-mill Asshole.  The default alignment for most people in the setting.  Not devoted enough to anything to stand out, for the most part, but definitely in it for themselves.  If they end up getting power of a personal or political variety they'll mostly use it to engage in wanton hedonism.  Priscilla the Queen of the Grey People is a Neutral Asshole (a particularly annoying one), as is the Jade Empire Games Controller (now the new King of the Grey People), the Jade Empress, the now-deceased Dragon-Daemon Tiamat, and various others.  Most of the non-cleric PCs we've had over the years of the campaign have been Neutral Assholes.

Chaotic Asshole:  these are the assholes who are all about themselves, just about all the time.  They can work with others (they're not nuts) but when they want something they won't hesitate to knife their grandmother in the back to get it.  They'd gladly save the world if you paid them enough or gave them right magic item, but would just as gladly betray you after.  They can end up with temporal power as well, but unlike Lawful Assholes won't really see that as an end, just a means to an end; they don't usually care about ruling over others. Most Halflings in the setting are Chaotic Assholes. So was the late sloth/crime-lord Slothy-Rodriguez. Likewise, the Daemons Sezrekan and the Lord of All Flesh, and of course Bill the Elf.

Anyways, that's it.  I think this new Alignment model could work really well not just for my DCC game, but probably for quite a few gonzo OSR-campaigns out there.  Feel free to use them!


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Oversize + H&H's Beverwyck

Monday, 18 May 2015

Gencon Registration

I was out for most of the day.  I have five minutes now, to write something for "today's" blog.  Coincidentally, from my G+ stream it seems that people are registering for Gencon.

Another year, another Gencon missed.  One of these days, I'll be there.
And oh what a year that will be.  I half-expect the Earth will shake.

Anyways, my best wishes and eternal envy to those who are going.


Currently Smoking:  Lorenzetti Solitario Egg + Gawith's Navy Flake

Saturday, 16 May 2015

DCC Campaign Update: Birth of the Cyber-Redneck

In this adventure, the PCs were caught up in the midst of:

-The Cleric Ack'Basha falling deeper and deeper into the rabbit-hole of his implausible revenge-fantasy against Sezrekan.

-the new Warrior in the party, Byfeld, turning out to be pretty much based on this guy:

-discussing whether someone could "Forest Walk" through a Necrotreant; and deciding to err on the side of caution

-a minor incident when the Warrior Redneck claims that "all purple mutants look alike".

-A series of other George-W-Bushisms from said Redneck Warrior

-coming to the realization that Schul, the party's rogue, is a really terrible liar.  As in, really bad at it.

-Encountering the dreaded Necrotreant, and learning that among his various statements of religious-policy, he has declared hats an abomination.

-meeting the Purple Mutant Chief, who is desperate to prove that he's still totally relevant, and has not at all been completely marginalized into obscurity by the Necrotreant and his religious cult of shaman-wizards.

-Bush-related paranoia.  Not as in George W., but as in literal bushes.  It's scary to try to sneak up on the Necrotreant in the middle of a forest when the dude can apparently turn any foliage into a horrific vegetable-undead monstrosity.

-A near-interminable rambling and pointless anecdote from the King of Elfland, who is very clearly the Grandpa Simpson of Daemon-Patrons

-realizing that to the Necrotreant, it's not just hats; pretty much EVERYTHING is an "abomination".

-finding that the whole of the Purple Mutant Tribe is just in denial. Caught up in their best chance ever to destroy their hated enemies, the Smug Elves of the Silver Dome, they've managed to convince themselves that when the NecroTreant says that "mutants are an abomination", he obviously must mean all those OTHER mutants, not them.  Surely this won't come back to bite them in the ass.

(to be fair, there's few things worse than a smug elf)

-Realizing that for the moment it's probably better to join them rather than try to beat them; though joining them might mean having to eat a delicious-looking stew made out of Green Mutant Princesses.

-reluctantly joining the cause of the NecroTreant in exchange for Queen Priscilla of the Grey People being liberated, rather than added to the stew.  And immediately regretting it, because now they have to put up with Queen Priscilla again.  Queen Priscilla, on the other hand, is very pleased with the death of her fellow princesses, since she was pretty sure they were all "skanks" who "probably had STDs".

-Discovering new boundaries to just how badass Sandy the Bikini-Chainmail Barbarian is, when she manages to be terrifyingly threatening while armed with nothing more than a sharpened carrot.

-Figuring out that casting Sleep while floating sixty feet in the air might not be such a good idea, if you misfire and end up dozing off in mid-flight and plummeting to your near-death.

-the clear confirmation that the Purple Mutant Chief is definitely no longer in any way relevant.

-Finding that the Purple Mutants like the worship hard, sacrifice hard, and then party hard with a post-cannibalism rave dance.  It's pretty much like that with all barbarians, as the party's willingness to party is pretty evenly split along barbarian/civilized lines.

-waking up the next morning with a variety of levels of hangover; the best case being very mild, the worst cases being Redneck Warrior who got into a drunken knife-fight, and Queen Priscilla who accidentally killed a Purple Mutant during some heavy necking when she forgot that she was poisonous to humanoids.  Fortunately, Schul the Rogue might be a really bad liar, but he is a fully-trained former grave-digger.

-getting that Queen Priscilla may be the most annoying entity in the multiverse, when she can manage to get Ack'Basha the normally placid party cleric to mock-drown her in a bucket of water.  Though he was still nice enough to give her a potion of water-breathing first.  Predictably, Queen Priscilla thinks Ack'Basha is the 'perviest cleric ever' and that he's obviously doing it because he 'fancies' her.

-An assessment of their present choices:  Night the Elf is fighting a one-woman guerrilla war against the NecroTreant, while everyone else in the party has decided to join him in his assault on the Silver Dome.  No one is sure if either is really a good idea.

-Deciding to get the heck out of Dodge (or rather, of the Purple Mutant town of Cordallen) while the getting is good; but pausing briefly so Redneck Warrior can pick up some wild carrots to make up for the one he lost in the drunken knife-fight.

-later deciding to tie Queen Priscilla to a tree and abandon her in the woods while going to see how the Purple-Mutant/Smug-Elf battle-royale goes down.

-Watching as the Elven lightning-gun defenses cause a near-immediate rout among the panicky purple mutants.  But things get interesting when the NecroTreant apparently sacrifices all of his undead treants to drive roots up against the foundations of the Dome, cracking it open.

-Continuing to watch from the security of a hiding place as the Purple mutants rally, only to flee again when their shamans accidentally botch their Choking Cloud spell and cause a lethal poison-gas attack on their own ranks.  Things get worse when the Elves release their hunter-killer droids; but the NecroTreant still has some tricks up his sleeve, as he entangles them in fungal vines until the robots are crushed.

-Finally deciding to join the fray, or at least try to make a dash-and-grab for some quick loot, when they see the Purple Mutant elite warriors sneaking their way toward the crack in the dome while carrying a mysterious and elaborate box that just screams 'secret weapon'.

-Managing to get through the crack under a spell of darkness only to get pinned down under a hail of blaster fire from Elven and Android troops.

-attempting to hold against the barrage; all except Night, who flies off to keep an eye on the NecroTreant, and Byfeld the Redneck Warrior, who tries to hide inside the Secret-Weapon-Box even though it's clearly not large enough for him to fit in.

-Discovering that the Secret-Weapon box is filled with hideous writhing fungal-undead seeds.  Not sure what else to do, and seeing his team-mates on the verge of getting slaughtered, Redneck Warrior decides to do what he does best and smash the living shit out of the weird seed-pods.

-observing the shattering of the NecroTreant's dreams of purity, as the seeds he planned to germinate in an explosion of the Silver Dome's powersphere (an explosion that would have utterly annihilated all life within a radius of a thousand miles) to create a new race of Mutant NecroTreants are destroyed by a human yokel with an oversized mace.

-running like hell from the super-efficient Smug Elves and their Android soldiers, abandoning the critically-injured Redneck Warrior to his fate.

-an act of blatant opportunism as Night the Elf takes advantage of the NecroTreant's distracted grief to hit him with every spell he's got. As it turns out, the King of Elfland's modified 'haste' spell provides Night with ALMOST enough power to kill the already-wounded NecroTreant; fortunately for Night, good old-fashioned fire manages to finish the job before the NecroTreant can retaliate with his death ray.

-groaning as the King of Elfland, who just maybe, maybe, is not quite as senile as he lets on, cannot resist the pun of saying that the NecroTreant's "bark" was worse than his bite.

-a denoument, as Byfeld the Redneck Warrior wakes up in the middle of the Tangled Forest, finding that instead of being elf-food, he's been set loose in the forest, and his horrific laser-injuries repaired in the form of a cybernetic lower-body... and possibly a mind-controlling brain-implant.


Currently Smoking: Mastro De Paja Bent Billiard + Rattray's Marlin Flake